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BREDEVOORT - the Dutch Booktown


The Dutch Booktown

Bredevoort is a small Dutch town with about 1.700 inhabitants. You find it in the very Eastern part of the Netherlands – only a few km from the German border.

The name of the town means “the broad fortress”. It was a military base with great importance in the wars between Spain and the Netherlands about 200-300 years ago, as its position is very strategic. And it was conquered by each side quite often. About a hundred years it was all over, when a lightening hit an ammunition depot and more than 2/3 of the town was blown up in one go.

Over the last 40-50 years developments in Bredevoort were not only slow. They were negative. Young people left the town. And at the end there were no activities of importance in the town.

This is the background for an initiative taken by a handful of local innovators in 1993. They started a BOOKTOWN. It started with a few initiatives. Today – 17 years later – the BookTown is very active with about 30 permanent booksellers and 30-40.000 visitors a year J

Bredevoort is a very nice town with a lovely atmosphere and charming streets, parks and squares. The houses are all well kept and inhabited.

Here are some important facts about Bredevoort as BookTown:

1)    The BookTown itself is based upon about 30 permanent booksellers and shops selling second-hand books. Each of them are based in old buildings of different sorts

2)    The first bookshop was started by an Englishman. His shop is called “TheEnglish Bookshop” and has rented rooms in a former school in the very centre of the town. In the beginning he paid a very low rent to the municipality, which continues to own the building. And as the selling of books increased he paid more rent. The town also has a German language bookshop ( very practical due to the nearby German border ).

3)    The local municipality has accepted that all bookshops may be open also each Sunday after 1 p.m.  ( after church services )

4)    The shops are on purpose fairly simple, informal, straightforward and charming. Not fancy,  sophisticated and pretentious.

5)    From the beginning the BookTown was supported by the Dutch government, from the region and from the municipality. This support made it possible to hire one full-time person and two part-time people. Organisationally the BookTown is an Association ( a “Stichting” ). And it is an active member of the international organization of booktowns IOB. The public support has now disappeared due to the savings following the financial crisis, so for the time being the BookTown has no employees. All work is based on unpaid voluntary contribution from the booksellers.

6)    Each bookseller buys at his or her own risk and costs second-hand books from estates after people have died,  from people who want to reduce their collection of books, from publishers, etc.  There are hardly any free books involved in the BookTown.

7)    Since a few years many booksellers have also started to sell books via the Internet. In some cases this activity covers up to half of the turnover of the shop. The bookseller we met in Bredevoort ( Tonny te Loo ) starts every day by going to his special Internetbookshop checking  who has “booked” and paid which books, packing the books and sending them from the local Post Office. It works perfectly. But he prefers the work in the shop itself, where he meets “real people” and not only their requests on the web. But he can only open his shop, when he has finished working for the Internet clients

8)    Some of the booksellers have specialized in specific themes. For example in poetry, or in literature on puppet theater

9)    After the 17 years existence of the BredevoortBookTown it is clear to most participants that you need to do MORE than just selling second-hand books. You have to arrange activities too.  And you have to show constant innovation in what you do.  At the same time the booksellers are often discussing, if it is all ONLY about business – or the purpose of the BookTown is something more. Tonny is happy that the latter attitude is winning the discussion

10)                   In some of the rooms of the old school in the centre of town a special Poetry Centre has been established. It holds Holland’s biggest collection of poetry.And once a month a well-known Dutch poet visits the centre to read from her or his own writings. This activity is a great success.

11)                   Every 3rd Saturday of the month all year around an outdoor bookmarket is organized. People from outside Bredevoort – booksellers as well as many private people –come to the market to sell their books. They can book space and a tent for their “one-day shop”.  The BookTown has an agreement with a local company about the practical installation of the shops ( tents, tables, etc. ). It pays 22 € for each stand, and the visiting booksellers and private persons pay 50 € for the whole day. It works very well, and it is a great success with a lot of activity. Even when snow has arrived during the winter. At the same time all local bookshops are, of course, open.

12)                   To organize parking for the many visitors who come from around the region and the country the BookTown has hired a group of school pupils who look after the cars. Each car parking costs 2 €. The pupils get 1 € and the BookTown 1 €.  Win-win for everybody J

13)                   Some special activities for children are often arranged. And also activities for men, and others for women. In short, activities for everybody

14)                   In the nice town park you can see different exhibitions of art from different artists. Paintings, sculptures, etc.

15)                   Bredevoort also has a hotel and several cafes. They were not there before the BookTown started.

16)                   Last, but not least it is of UTMOST importance that the activities have a significant coverage in the media. From the beginning Bredevoort created an enormous interest also in the national press. The biggest dailies in the Netherlands had full-page articles. A BookTown: What is it actually ?  And the coverage continues to be good, especially when new initiatives are started.

17)                   CONTACT:  Tonny te Loo ( speaks English ) will be very happy to help with information and advice. E-mail:  Tel. 0031 543 451 752


Liselotte & Niels Jørgen Thøgersen   ( following a visit to Bredevoort on June 11, 2010 )

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